How Much Forgiveness Is Enough?

This is often the question that is behind many discussions about forgiveness. There is this tendency to think of God’s forgiveness as a measurable quantity. Yet when we look at Scripture the picture that is given of forgiveness is completely different. Now this may not be entirely apparent, as I’m sure many will be quick to point out and say, “Ah! But look at the Old Testament system of sacrifice. You commit this crime, you have a certain kind of sacrifice that needs to be made, another for various kinds of ritual uncleanliness, etc.” And of course, you would have made a very good observation. However, we must remember that the whole reason why “there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood” (of sacrificises) was because Jesus Christ shed his blood on the Cross. Hebrews 9 does a great job of breaking this down… so go read it. This brings me to forgiveness and the cross. There on the cross Jesus said, “It is finished”. The Greek is one of those cool words, tetelesthai, which has an even richer meaning, something like “It is finished, once and for all, with enduring results into eternity”. That’s a lot to get out of one word. So think about it this way, when you were/are Baptized, it wasn’t an incomplete job. God did it, and he united you with Jesus on the cross tetelesthai, “It is finished”. Your sins, past, present, and future were all forgiven there. So, forgiveness then isn’t something we “get” like we go and “get gas” and fill our holiness tanks up. It isn’t like a tally sheet where we hope that the number of points Jesus scores for us in the forgiveness column will be bigger than the points in the sin column. No, forgiveness is the death of the sinful man and the creation of the new man in Christ (Romans 6). Forgiveness is a tetelesthai, “It is finished” act of God. What’s the ramifications of this? Well, it certainly isn’t that we have no need for Church, for absolution, or for the Sacrament (heck, all three are for the Baptized). Christ gives these to us as gift, to “strengthen and nourish” us in “body and soul” because of the very fact that we are simultaniously 100% sinner and 100% righteous. Since that is the case, the thought of “I don’t need absolution” or “I don’t need the Lord’s Supper” should never enter our mind or come from our lips. We should be desiring these things often! In fact, when we say we don’t need these things, really we are denying the very sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Luther does a great job of diagnosing whether we have a need to go to the Sacrament: To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in  Galatians 5 and  Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in
1 John 2 and 5
. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in
John 8 and 16
1 Peter 5
Ephesians 6
; and
2 Timothy 2